Capitol Alert

Senate sends bill to close gender pay gap to governor

Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson, D-Santa Barbara, authored Senate Bill 358 to address California’s gender pay gap.
Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson, D-Santa Barbara, authored Senate Bill 358 to address California’s gender pay gap. The Associated Press

The California Senate unanimously approved a bill strengthening the state’s equal-pay policies Monday, sending the measure to Gov. Jerry Brown, who plans to sign it into law.

“I’m almost speechless,” state Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson, D-Santa Barbara, said after the Senate voted 39-0 for the version of the measure that cleared the Assembly last week. “After 35, 40 years of battling, we were able to get unanimous support.”

Though California already has laws on the books to prohibit businesses from paying women less for doing the same work as their male colleagues, author Jackson said Senate Bill 358 is intended to close the remaining gaps. She hopes it can become a template for other states.

The bill broadens existing law and says that women must be paid the same for doing “substantially similar” work. Employers, in the case of lawsuits, would have to prove they were paying a male worker more for “legitimate” reasons, such as seniority or merit.

Before, Jackson said, “work had to be exactly the same, which allowed for a lot of excuses.”

Perhaps most significant, she added, SB 358 creates new protections for workers who compare wages, so that they cannot be fired or otherwise retaliated against.

“People have been afraid to ask what their colleagues are making,” Jackson said. “You can’t challenge what you don’t know.”

Brown rarely comments on pending legislation, but in recognition of Women’s Equality Day last week, Brown’s office announced that he would sign the bill.

“Breaking w/convention on #WomensEqualityDay to announce @JerryBrownGov will sign CA Fair Pay Act when it reaches his desk,” Brown’s executive secretary, Nancy McFadden, wrote on Twitter.

SB 358 was a major priority this year for the California Legislative Women’s Caucus, chaired by Jackson, which unveiled the bill at a news conference two days after actress Patricia Arquette’s Oscar speech calling for renewed attention to women’s rights. (Arquettetweeted her congratulations to Jackson when the measure passed the Senate for the first time in May.)

After working with Jackson to craft the exceptions for legitimate differences in pay, the California Chamber of Commerce dropped its opposition and endorsed the bill, clearing the ways for its passage.

Democrats and Republicans alike took to the Senate floor Monday to praise the proposal. But Sen. Joel Anderson, R-Alpine, also noted a Sacramento Bee investigation that found female staffers in the Senate make 94 cents on the dollar compared to men, while female staffers in the Assembly make 92 cents on the dollar compared to their male colleagues.

“Before we start shaking our fingers at those outside the dome, we should be looking inside and calling out those members who choose to underpay their staff,” Anderson said. “We should be the shining example.”

Jackson said the Legislature does better than the state as a whole, where women make 84 cents for every dollar earned by men, but she added that the bill will cover the public sector, as well as private businesses.

“There are culture shifts that have to happen everywhere,” she said. “We sadly sometimes just assume men’s work is more valuable.”

Alexei Koseff: 916-321-5236, @akoseff